I suppose Name Changer (#1) is the horse to beat in this wide-open Queens County. If he runs back to his winning effort in the Monmouth Cup two back, he is probably going to beat this field. However, you have to wonder where that performance came from since his surrounding races don’t necessarily suggest that he’s a graded stakes-winning type. I can’t fault him for losing to the streaking Aztec Sense last time, but I thought his overall performance was somewhat dull, and the subsequent layoff does not inspire confidence.
Some may consider Exulting (#10) to be his main rival, and the Pace Projector indicates that he should work out the right trip. There isn’t very much early speed in this race, and Exulting should be leading the field early, especially after the scratch of Adulator. The problem with Exulting is the distance since I believe he’s much better around one turn, and he was unable to handle 1 1/8 miles against stakes company last time. Furthermore, he has shown a tendency to lug in badly through the late stages of his races, and those antics got the better of him last time. Kiaran McLaughlin adds blinkers to correct that issue, but I still can’t trust him.
Small Bear (#8) is a perfectly logical contender. He’s raced primarily over turf in recent seasons, but he’s a capable dirt performer, and this distance suits him well. He defeated Exulting three back when closing behind Favorable Outcome, and I thought he ran better than his fourth-place finish would indicate last time at Laurel after being stuck down inside for much of the way. I’m using him prominently, but I think this is a race where we can take a shot with a bigger price.
I’ve always been a fan of BACKSIDEOFTHEMOON (#5), and his last race suggests that he could be rounding back into top form. He made a solid late run at Exulting, who had worked out a perfect trip stalking a moderate pace. This horse typically comes alive in the fall and winter months, and he’s proven that 1 1/8 miles is within his ideal range. Going back to last winter, he ran a string of speed figures that make him fast enough to compete with these rivals. I like that Leo O’Brien is adding blinkers again to get him more involved in the early pace, and I think it’s a good sign that he’s now putting races back-to-back after a series of layoffs.
Exacta Key Box: 5 with 1,3,8,9,10